Monday, December 31, 2012

Robert Janz: AKA Glyffiti Man

My wife and I are honored to be friends with the great artist of witty, ephemeral, and poetic paintings and objects, Robert Janz. After a visit to his Tribeca studio over the weekend, I wanted to share a bit about him with you. Robert came up in the Pacific Coast Beat movement of the 1950s, noted for its embrace of Eastern philosophies, and his work reflects the Buddhist sensibility of impermanence as well as any I have seen. His work also celebrates the imagery of petroglyphs. If wall and rock paintings are among the very first artistic creations, this means that all art, at its heart, is a kind of graffiti, says Robert.

As luck, serendipity, or John Cage might have it, as I am writing this entry Robert just sent this link, updating us on his work up at Penn Station.

Here's a great blog feature on Robert's work, which can be seen all over Manhattan.

Here's another.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Blindingly Obvious, #1: About Louis

In this regular feature I share insights that strike me as revelations, but which to others are, you know....

So I was listening to a collection of the best of Louis Armstrong's Hot Fives and Sevens the other day and it occurred to me that he plays mostly with arpeggios instead of scales and runs because he's influenced by bugle calls.

A Genius Conclusion

Many are lamenting the conclusion this fall of Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations." An equal number are no doubt celebrating. But who could question the genius of his final episode, in which he visited assorted foodie hot spots in Minneapolis and then checked himself into Hazelden?

Always Almost Falling Apart

With the Stones being upfront in our consciousness as they celebrate 50 years together it's worth considering their aesthetic. Call it intentional sloppiness played with commitment and groove. After watching some of their concert films this fall, it seems to me that for this reason they do embody rock and roll more than any other group. The always-almost-falling-apart aesthetic is compelling and can be approached from a couple musical angles, both of which the Stones seem to embody at any given time.

The first is the "inspired amateurism" angle exemplified by the garage rock movement of the 60s and the early punk movement of the late 70s and early 80s. Think of the Replacements. We cheer because they sound good but also because they made it through the song without messing up too bad--just like we in the audience might do if we were brave enough to give it a go, too. The joy comes from the effort and the spirit and not from any sort of rectitude.

The other angle is exemplified by the music of the jazz master Charles Mingus. Mingus and his musicians were virtuosos but played like hell and achieved a kind of ragged sophistication. Part of this came from not over rehearsing I think. But listen to "Better Get it In Your Soul," from Mingus Ah Um, and you can hear Mingus exhorting everyone to approach the inspired cacophony of a gospel meeting.

Once you get a taste for the "always-almost-falling-apart" sound it's hard to love anything else as much. It applies to all the art forms, too.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Terry Callier: A Truly Spiritual Singer Gone

In terms of recent musician deaths, the late Dave Brubeck received a lot of attention, deservedly, although I wonder what his legacy would have been without the benefit of Paul Desmond as his creative collaborator.

For me, though, it was the passing of Chicago native Terry Callier this fall that saddened me most. I discovered him through his late career resurgence as the favored soul singer of the 1990s "acid jazz" revival in London. Let me just say they had very good taste. Spurred on by this attention he released, after many years away from recording, a masterpiece called Timepeace. Writing at AllMusic, Jason Ankeny nails it: 

"Long ago tagged with the label "folk-jazz," Callier's music eludes easy description; cosmic and spiritual, it also bears the influence of gospel and soul, yet synthesizes its disparate elements in unprecedented and breathtaking ways."

Callier exuded a sense that life is a very special thing, whose true meaning music and the human voice can only begin to communicate, yet which somehow came through in his expression. He was a soul singer insofar as he communicated great feelings of wonderment and gratitude and a grand perspective. I guess I'm trying to say his music really was a spiritual thing.

Part of his power, I think, came from the fact that music wasn't everything to him. He left the music business in the 80s to raise his family and work a regular job at the University of Chicago. Life was everything to him, and now he is gone. Check him out. Listen and learn. 

Here's the AllMusic page.

Here's the NYT obit.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Not Zen Anything

I've long been irked by the use of the word 'zen' to signify anything spiritual of a vaguely Eastern orientation. But in the last couple years, as we've seen yoga sweep our nation (and its suburbs), we've seen a further debasement of the northern Buddhist word zen as it gets attached to this Hindu mode of enlightenment. On more than one of the popular "house shows," I've seen wealthy owners point to their yoga rooms and proclaim them to be Very Zen. Stop it.

Nothing could be less zen than yoga, with its exertions and mantras. The Buddha reached his enlightenment after rejecting the disciplines of the yogis who would starve themselves or tie themselves in knots. He experienced direct realization of the truth of existence while simply sitting under the Bo tree. Zen seeks to practice in a similar manner, sitting and letting the mind be, in emptiness. Zen disciplines include careful attention to what's in front of us, as demonstrated in activities such as the tea ceremony and calligraphy and haiku. Enlightenment isn't built or gained, it is realized in a flash of "satori."

Now I see that Tony Bennett's autobiography is subtitled "The Zen of Bennett." Tony, I love you a lot, and you are a genuinely spiritual person, but you're not zen anything.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Good Things To Do, #1: Experience Gregory Porter

A regular feature of this site will be "Good Things To Do," which will recommend, well, good things to do. My first entry is this: Watch the moving and brilliant jazz singer Gregory Porter perform his song "Be Good" in a live setting.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Matter of Faith

Well, now that I'm up and running with this blog, the steady stream of ideas that accompany me through my my days, and which inspired me to launch this site, seem to have vanished! No problem. As a writer, I have found that the necessary ideas and solutions always appear, often in moments of inattention, say, in the shower, doing dishes, or walking to lunch. So my faith is that I will, in fact, fill this site with things worth saying and reading. It is also my faith, or at least my sincere hope, that you will agree. Until I discover who you are, you shall reside in my mind as The Ideal Reader -- a role I hope you continue to fill even once you are known.